May 24 2011 11:34am

Inception: The First Blockbuster For Your Mind

Decade’s Best SFF Movies Appreciaton of Inception by Danny Bowes

I’ve seen Inception three times now, and each viewing has been better than the one before it. This is after a first viewing that, mere hours later, led me to post this. It’s an astonishing achievement in cinematic craft, presenting any number of things—the city folding over on itself, the zero-gravity hallway fight—that give moviegoers the now-rare feeling, “I haven’t seen that before.”

This in spite of the fact that Inception is more a synthesis of influences than a work of “true” originality. There are faint, indirect Philip K. Dick “what is real?” undertones, by way of movies like Blade Runner and Total Recall. As in the work of the late Stanley Kubrick, intellect comes before emotion. These are not criticisms, this is just the kind of movie this is, and the emotional detachment is part of what I personally find exhilarating about Inception. It’s a movie about smart people who figure things out and then act, and whose repressed emotions lead to locomotives roaring through city streets and destroying things, because that’s what emotional repression does.

The last movie(s) I remember provoking conversations as long and involved as the ones I’ve had about Inception were the Matrix sequels. It says something about a movie that even the people who don’t like it think about why they don’t like it. For instance, I have a friend who found the female characters in Inception to be regressive stereotypes, and we’ve had numerous lengthy chats about this—I agree to the extent that I think Inception becomes even more interesting if you swap Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Ellen Page’s parts, making her Leo DiCaprio’s right hand and him the naïve young design prodigy—but again, if the movie didn’t have at least something to it, the entire conversation would have been “Inception sucks.” Because it doesn’t. Quite the contrary.

I would go as far as to call Inception my favorite summer blockbuster of all time. The only competition is Terminator 2: Judgment Day, which I like for wholly separate reasons. Where the latter presses on the brain’s pleasure center like an accelerator pedal with tools like then-unprecedented CGI, explosions and car chases, Inception achieves the same effect, with a lot of the same tools, but indirectly by targeting the intellect. Like the endless twists in director Christopher Nolan’s 2006 picture The Prestige, Inception is just complex enough that it flatters the audience by implying, “You’re smart if you can figure this out,” but is deceptively straight-forward. As a summer blockbuster, after all, it can’t make things too hard on the audience. And in an entertainment landscape where intelligence is a rare commodity, the slightest semblance thereof is a welcome thing.

Here’s to Inception. May it be the first of many summer movies of the mind, rather than the last. And may it be praised forever for making it impossible to get Edith Piaf’s “Non, je ne regrette rien” out of your head for days on end, for Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s and Tom Hardy’s tailoring, for Ken Watanabe’s “I decided to buy the airline, it seemed simpler,” for the chase scene in Mombassa, and for the fact that from here forward, we can score our day-to-day lives with this.

Danny Bowes is a playwright, filmmaker and blogger. He is also a contributor to nytheatre.com and Premiere.com.

This article is part of Decade's Best SFF Movies Viewer's Poll: ‹ previous | index | next ›
Declan Ryan
1. decco999
I enjoyed Inception, no doubt about that. I agree that it was an excellent Summer blockbuster. But ......... it was not, in my opinion, a well made film. Now, I have no expertise whatsoever when it comes to film-making, so all I can report upon is what annoyed me about it - and that was around character development. The main characters jumped from the "hello, how are you" scenes to, within mere minutes, confiding intimate details of their lives to each other.

Great film, no doubt. Maybe a director's cut, where character development scenes (if they exist) are rescued from the cutting room floor and included. But that's just me.
2. a1ay
The main characters jumped from the "hello, how are you" scenes to,
within mere minutes, confiding intimate details of their lives to each

I'd disagree on that, actually; IIRC the team are all supposed to have worked together lots of times before, so they'd know each other well. With the exception of Ellen Page's character - and they were noticeably spiky towards her initially.

I think Inception becomes even more interesting if you swap
Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Ellen Page’s parts, making her Leo DiCaprio’s right hand and him the naïve young design prodigy

No, Page's too young; she barely looks old enough to be an architecture student, let alone a highly experienced corporate criminal. Give her another five years and go for it. Agree that Levitt could have handled the naive designer role.
Brent Longstaff
3. Brentus
I like how Inception made the "So, what's your favorite movie?" question easy for me. I could never make up my mind before.
Simon Southey-Davis
4. Glyph
Serendipity for the win: one of the images in my funnies inbox today made the point that there's a sixth layer below / within limbo: Titanic.

At the end of Titanic - a dreamlike, larger-than-life narrative in itself - Leo dies in the ocean; Inception opens with him waking up on a beach in limbo with waves lapping over him. Coincidence?!
5. Jexral
Inception was a good film. I enjoyed it quite well.

That said, it wasn't nearly as good as people seem to think. It wasn't particularly cerebral; it was, as you noted, rather straight-forward. There were some seriously awesome sequences - the floating gun fight in the hotel, for one - and the acting was quite good, but it just fell a bit flat for me. It wasn't nearly as thoughtful as the similarly-themed 'Shutter Island', nor as complex as a Charlie Kaufman film. I felt like they were trying to make a film like that, but were afraid of making it too smart.

It was good, but disappointing.
6. Boden
Emotional detachment? I never understand that critique of Inception (and Nolan) because it's one of the key elements involved with the film that make it resonate so well in the first place. The kids, the father and son story, and first and foremost, Mal and Dom. Maybe my emotion indicators are wired wrong, but I can hardly breathe during the final scene between Mal and Dom.

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